Q1: Is Morocco safe?
Morocco’s economy is very dependent upon tourism and continues to be a favourite holiday destination for Europeans (3rd favourite for the French), and in Marrakech over 17,000 foreigners are registered (2007) homeowners. Reforms have been put in place to ensure visitors experience in Morocco is as carefree as possible. All guides must be registered and trained. Tourist Police work in every major city. Compared to Europe, crime is commonly petty thievery on trains and buses.
The political situation is stable and progress towards modernising democratic reforms has been a peaceful process. With strong diplomatic and trade associations in Europe, especially France – and increasingly the USA and Japan, positive change and growth is in the future for Morocco. Islamic extremism has existed, but attacks are rare and severely punished. Moroccans practice a moderate and tolerant form of Islam and are sensitive to the plight of Palestine and Iraq. Fortunately Morocco has not experienced the political upheaval that others North African countries have had to endure in the quest for a stable democratic government.
The Ebola outbreak in sub Saharan Africa is a deep concern for the government of Morocco and they have taken extreme steps to stop the potential spread of the disease. All flights to infected countries are now on hold indefinitely, and the FIFA Africa Cup was cancelled to avoid the influx of Africans from infected countries.
Moroccans welcome all visitors with open arms, the culture is especially renowned for it’s hospitality. Hassling to buy tends to be a problem and Moroccans are experts in talking you out of your money using charm and perhaps a glass of mint tea. The best way to let them know you do not want anything is to avoid looking at the wares for sale and simply walk away even if the person is blocking your way. A bit of humour here can go a long way!
Take, for example, Walter Harris, who wrote in “Morocco That Was”, published in 1921:
“In all life and on all my journeys in Morocco I have made a point of trusting every one, and seldom, if ever, have I been disappointed.” I hope his warm words provide you with the confidence to visit this terrific country.
Q2: What about women travelling Morocco?
From the city of Marrakech where anything goes, to the Sahara village where women dress in black with one eye showing from behind a veil, Morocco is a country of many contrasts. Foreign women travel quite safely but attract attention everywhere, most often to buy something or be offered a “service” (especially in the big cities, take that offer as you may!). As Muslims, men should not touch a woman he doesn’t know. If a foreign women wants respect she should not tolerate his long handshake or his lingering hand on her arm or anywhere else. Dress as you do at home but conservatively to gain respect. Foreigners are treated with the duality of wonderful hospitality or as a chance for financial gain. The invitation to visit and have tea or dine with a family is a memorable experience. But measure invitations with obligation. Traditions are strong and old ways are practiced. A good attitude and a sense of sharing and humour go a long way to breaking down preconceptions of foreigners and is always appreciated by Moroccans.
Q3: What can I expect while touring Morocco?
Travelling in a foreign culture and developing country such as Morocco can be a delightfully rewarding and challenging experience. African cultures have much to teach those of us who come from the modern world offering opportunities to combine enjoyment and understanding with learning new and ancient ways of living and survival.
Romantic meanderings aside, Moroccans work very hard to make visitors feel welcome and provide what you need but patience and understanding is needed as well. It is a developing country and modern amenities are still being built or are non existent in many places outside the city. Sometimes visitor’s expectations are not understood by a culture that has little or no direct experience of them so instead, you might receive an interpretation of your request with interesting consequences. Life moves a lot slower than what Westerners are used to, and this must be taken into consideration when something is taking too much time. Life is slow by nature and things do get done eventually. It’s best to approach Morocco with an appreciation of cultural differences, sounds, smells, language, expression, light, relaxing, enjoying and accepting. Remember laughter speaks the same language everywhere.
Q4: Is it easy to get around without a guide?
We recommend hiring a human guide for a few hours to allow yourself to become comfortable with the culture. After a day or so in Morocco you’ll be an old hand at getting around. You might pay 400 dirhams or more per 4 hour tour, 100 dirhams per hour for a local guide.
Otherwise many people love to find their own way since Morocco is fun to explore, and Sahara luxury tours encourages this. We recommend bringing a good guide book like Rough Guide, National Geographic, Cadogan, or Time Out for accuracy, good advice, great maps and cultural details. Lonely Planet is ever popular but reports from our clients unfortunately claim it tends to be misleading.
Q5: Which days will we need to hire guides?
How well are guides trained?
Travelling with both a hired driver and a guide is not practical as guides specialise ie: trekking, camels, city tours etc. When you book a tour with Sahara luxury Tours we can help you hire an English speaking city or historic site guide when you arrive at their specialised location. All certified guides must complete a two year Government training course and carry a badge that qualifies them as a professional guide.
Drivers are not allowed to act as an official guides unless licensed to do so. Drivers can help and inform on your journey but often cannot engage your services outside the car at certain destinations. However he can help you find and hire a local informed guide if needed. If you really enjoy your drivers and guides think about how much they might deserve in your own country. Please tip when deserved!
Q6: How much and who should I tip?
Tipping is customary in Morocco but also up to you… about 100 dirhams for a professional guide per each hour they work with your group is a good starting price. However if someone shows you back to your hotel they’ll probably expect a tip and you can offer them 10 dirhams. Keeping spare coins in your pocket is a good idea to avoid digging through your wallet or purse.
Its never a good idea to tip children for anything for any reason. Pedophilia is on the rise in Morocco. Foreigners with good intentions have encouraged them to freely approach strangers. Please never give children anything even candies (bon bons) or pens (stilos) etc, no matter how needy they appear (see Q18 below).
For trekking each person may tip their trekking guide 300 – 500 dirhams.
Otherwise tipping 10-15% is the standard but as always it is up to you.
Q7: Do your guides and drivers speak English, French or Spanish?
Guides know many languages as well as Berber and Arabic, including French, Spanish, and English and often some German, Japanese, Italian and Dutch as well. Our drivers know English, Spanish and French.
During high seasons: Christmas and New Years into the first week of January: Easter; and sometimes during October our English speaking drivers are in great demand.
Q8: What kind of vehicles do you use?
We use 4×4 vehicles, Toyota Land Cruisers or similar for our private tours. SUV 4×4’s have lots of room and they seat 4 and 5 average sized people quite comfortably. All are within 5 years old and are routinely required to licensing and service checks through the Transport Touristic authority in Morocco. We use minibuses seating 14 or 17 passengers for group tours.
Vehicles and drivers are assigned to tours on the basis of who is available when and where.
We can arrange for private transport to any location in Morocco. Our cars and drivers originate from Marrakech, and if you are staying in any location for an overnight, the car and driver must also stay as well. It will take one whole day for the car and driver to reach places like Tangier or Fes or Casablanca, so this cost must be included in a tour starting or finishing in locations outside of Marrakech, plus the drivers meals and hotel expenses.
Q9: What clothing is appropriate in Morocco?
You can relax and wear whatever is familiar and comfortable on the street at home. Morocco is very tolerant and welcoming to visitors, you’re not expected to act or look like a Moroccan. Longer shorts and shirts are fine for men. For women it’s a good idea to bring a scarf to cover bare shoulders and arms in rural villages. Shorts are not acceptable for women unless below knee length.
Rural people will be visibly embarrassed if you choose to dress with skin showing, and react with a muffled laugh or cover their eyes. In their view, you’re walking around in your underwear. City dwellers often dress as we do.
Q10: What kind of food do Moroccans eat?
Q11: What should I bring on a camel trek?
When you send a deposit Sahara Luxury Tours will send an information package of what to bring and what to expect while travelling in Morocco.
Q12: On overnight camel treks, will sleeping bags and sheets will be provided?
Warm wool blankets are provided as well as pillows and sheets and foam sleeping mats. Winter nights (November to early March) can be very cold in the desert dunes at night because sand doesn’t hold in any heat. The wool tents can be quite warm. We provide some sleeping bags, but in limited supply. In high season (Christmas and New Years) visitors might consider bringing their own.
Q13: What kind of accommodation do you use?
We normally use 2, 3, or 4 star level medina riads, auberge (small country inns) and hotels.
Hotel stays include a full (not continental) breakfast and many include dinner. You will stay in traditional mud kasbahs, many with wood burning fireplaces, air conditioning, salons and roof terraces for meals and relaxing. They are charming and comfortable but tend to be cold in the winter in the higher elevations mountain locations or desert. In Marrakech, Essaouira and Fes we use smaller hotels renovated from beautiful old Merchant houses – riads in the old medina. In Casablanca we use a modern hotel downtown.
Q14: Do I need travel insurance in Morocco?
Travel insurance should be obtained before leaving your country of origin. We never force anyone to purchase it however. Local hospitals have limited diagnostic capability. Foreign clinics can be expensive, evacuation can cost thousands, luggage can disappear, so insurance is a good idea. We recommend World Nomads for good deals and excellent service for medical and personal property insurance for those who are under 60 years of age.
Q15: Do you employ local people?
Yes! All our employees are Moroccan – muleteers, camel handlers, drivers, guides, hoteliers, and we have forged multiple relationships that translate into employment for many families. Many riads in Marrakech are run by Europeans – we try to use Moroccan owned as much as we can. In Marrakech, we use a small riad owned and run by a Moroccan family. Sahara Luxury Tours only employs one foreigner, the rest are Moroccans living and working in Morocco.
Q16: Do you ensure that local people are given a fair price for their work?
Local people are sometimes badly paid. For example a porter or a muleteer with a mule receives the Morocco Tourism Ministry recommended minimum. We strive to pay higher than this and we also provide a pension for our full time employees. Also your tip is important to support their livelyhood.
Q17: Are local people whose villages and homes visited happy about tourism?
People are happy to have visitors because tourism helps support the local economy with cash, spreading wealth from local artisans (often women), shopkeepers, cafes, guides (often young men supporting their family) and beyond. Many rural economies are still based on the barter system.
Q18: What is your recommendation about giving money or presents?
The social support system of Morocco is to give alms to the poor, especially during Ramadan. That said, you may want to assess how needy someone really is before giving a few dirhams to anyone begging on the street. There are a number of scams based upon organised begging. Please, never give anything to children, no matter how needy they may appear to be. Pedophilia is on the rise in Morocco, especially in Marrakech and giving encourages children to freely approach foreigners.
Q19: Do you try to minimise any impact on the environment?
Do guides allow clients to buy illegal artifacts or animal products?
We inform our guides to avoid any illegal occurrences as outlined in the Geneva Convention for acquiring cultural property or endangered species. As well we strongly discourage anyone from purchasing anything that compromises the wild population of plants or animals in Morocco.
Q20: How do I reserve a tour?
What does a tour with Sahara Luxury tours cost?
Do you have references?
Our prices might be a bit higher than some other companies who offer similar tours because we believe in paying all our drivers well and provide retirement pensions. Cheaper tours will find their drivers sleeping in their vehicle to save money. Our drivers are provided with a hotel and shower and meals every day while on tour.